and Last Hope Fjord
Located at the edge of the Last Hope Sound, Puerto Natales is a small Patagonian town of approximately 22.000 inhabitants and the capital of Ultima Esperanza province. The settlement was created at the beginning of XX century after the construction of Puerto Bories cold storage plant, nowadays converted into a museum and the site where The Singular Patagonia was built in 2011. Puerto Natales is distant 250km (155 miles) from the city of Punta Arenas and 110km (65 miles) from the main gate of Torres del Paine National Park; making it an exceptional point for 1/2 days stop when travelling to Patagonia since it harbours some exquisite natural sites worth visiting such as Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers, Peninsula Antonio Varas' estancias as well as Sofia lake valley and the surrounding mountains.
Trekking & Tours
Boat Tour in the Last Hope Fjord
The Last Hope Sound stretches for 45km from the town of Puerto Natales to Mount Balmaceda located at the end of it. Fjord is originally a norwegian word, used to defined a former glacial valley filled up with sea water as the glacier has disappeared. Chile is one of the few countries in the world to possess this type of morphological features as well as Norway, Alska and New Zealand which are the countries where the last Pleistocene glaciation occured massively. From the austral spring to autumn there are daily boat excursions leaving Puerto Natales in the morning, reaching in approximately one and an half hour Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers situated inside Bernardo O'Higgins National Park. After a short hike to approach the mountain glacier Serrano, you'll return back along the fjord making few detours to appreciate waterfalls, wildlife and the pristine beauty of the surrounding mountains.
The Eberhard Fjord is a tributary of the main one and was named after the first european settler of the province, Hermann Eberhard, who founded in 1893 the oldest ranch, Estancia Puerto Consuelo. Besides being an historical site this is also a fine area for kayaking, being the waters of the Eberhard fjord more sheltered and much calmer than the Last Hope.
Laguna Sofia and the Milodon Cave
Sofia lake lies some 25 kilometers north of Puerto Natales; a tranquil body of water created after huge glacial piedmont lobe Ultima Esperanza begun to retreat 18.000 years ago. The U-shaped valley was filled up with snow melting water and on the southern side of it, a small and round shape polished by the glacier hill was left behind. This is what we call Cerro Benitez, a worth half day hiking tour from Puerto Natales in which you'll find beautiful native shrubland and forest, elegant blue cobalt Sofia lake and the chance of spotting the Andean Condor hovering over your head.
The western flanks of Cerro Benitez hide another surprise; a well preserved system of caves in which paleontological discoveries have been carried out since the beginning of XX century. Today the area has been declared a Natural Monument and it's famous worldwide as the Milodon Cave, or the Ultima Esperanza Cave as writer Bruce Chatwin called it in his book "In Patagonia".
From Puerto Natales different minor mountain ranges run south to north parallel to the Patagonian Andes; one of these is the so-called Señoret Range which extends for approximately 25km from Sofia to Toro lake at the boundaries of Torres del Paine National Park. The whole range is entirely composed by sedimentary rocks, primarily thick conglomerate layers interbedded by finer sandstone layers; great examples of this intesting geological morphology are the mountains Cerro Mocho and Cerro Castillo. The first one clearly visible from Puerto Natales reaches 1450m of elevation and shows a classical glaciar cirque erosion which gives it the shape of a pot, hence the local name "la Olla"; Cerro Castillo is instead located more north near Toro lake and can also be climb easily with a day tour from the city.
Running parallel to Señoret on the West lies Cordillera Prat, a small group of five peaks among which stand Mount Prat and Mount Tenerife both of them visible from Puerto Natales and easily distinguishable for their conic and pointy structure. Despite the shape this is not a volcanic range but instead as the previous one, a sedimentary anticline composed by dark and fine shale layers deposited during the late Jurassic at the bottom of the Magallanes Foreland Basin. Compare to Mocho and Castillo, these peaks are higher reaching 1600m above sea level and require some basic mountaineering skills and more endurance due to the highest exposure to the westerlies winds and colder temperature.
Grey Fox (Lycalopex griseus)
South American Gray Fox or sometimes called Chilla or Pampa Fox due to ecosystem where it dwells, it's a species of canid endemic of the Southern Cone and can be found in Argentina and Chile below the parallel 15°, thus in the Atacama desert. Compare to its bigger cousing the Andean or Red Fox, its body lenght is no longer than 1 meter including the tail; fur colour is pale brown to grey with reddish paws; a distinguish long black spot under the chin makes it easier to recognize from the Andean Fox.
Solitary or sometimes small families of Gray Fox can be spotted all around the area of Puerto Natales, in the proximity of the fjord or in the valleys and slopes of the mountains surrounding the city. It's a very common sight although sometimes it last few seconds since it's a very elusive predator.
Patagonian Skunk (Coneupatus humboldtii)
Also known as the Hog-Nosed Skunk, it's a species found in the Southern Argentina and Chilean Patagonia. It's a small carnivore of the family Mephitidae relying on ground beetles, crickets and grasshopers that it founds by digging under grasses and bushes with its powerful claws. The body is cover with a black fur, a little reddish colour on the back and two distinctive white stripes running towards the head.
The Patagonian Skunk is a crepuscular animal, sometimes spotted while driving across the Patagonian Steppe or in the proximity of the Magelannic Shrubland. Occasionally it's an opportunistic species relies in death carcasses such as lambs, sheep or small guanacos previously killed by bigger predators.
Black-Chested Eagle (Geranoaecus melanoleucus )
The largest of the birds of prey in these southern latitudes, also known as the Chilean Blue Eagle; it's an eagle like-buzzard distinguishable when flying by its triangular shape. The chest is white with a bluish dark V-shaped spot that also covers the head and the back wings.
The Black-Chested Buzzard-Eagle spans broadly from the steppe and shrubland, to the forest and andean desert of the high elevation of the Andes; near Puerto Natales though it can be spotted hunting introduced European rabbits and hares, as well as rodents, small birds or occasionally feeding on carcasses together with Condors and Caracaras. Actively hunting at dusk and dawn is often spotted perching on fence posts while driving in the Patagonian Steppe.
Southern Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus)
A common middle-sized bird of prey of the family Falconidae, the Crested Caracara or Carancho is a bold opportunistic raptor largely distributed in South America from Tierra del Fuego to Brazil and Perù, although it avoids the higher elevations of the Andes and humid areas of the Amazon forest. A solitary predator is often observed walking on the ground or perching on trees or fences and sometimes it gathers in small groups if a big food source is available such as a carcasse or near urban dump wastes.
Its confidence towards humans and human settlements makes it a common bird to spot nearby Puerto Natales and the cattle ranches of the province and due to its size and elegant plumage is sometimes mistaken for an eagle.
Long-tail Meadowlark (Sturnella loyca)
Loica, as it's called in Spanish, is a medium-sized passerine bird dwelling in the shrubland and grassland of the Patagonian Steppe. During spring and summer meadowlarks are mostly seen in couples, males having a brighter red breast which make them easy to discern from the pale-orange colour of the females; during winter time they gather in small flocks of 10/15.
Their distinctive shriek make them easy to spot, although being a bit skeptical and fast moving, they're not so easy to photograph. They build their nest in the ground or on low bushes and breed and live in the Southern Cone between Chile and Argentina.
Located at 51°42'' Puerto Natales as a mild continental weather with four well marked season; being placed at sea level the temperature during winter time doesn't drop too much below zero, whereas in spring and summer the Patagonian Andes protect the town from the strong wind that comes from the Pacific ocean. The city can be reached year around from the regional capital Punta Arenas and during summer direct flights operate from Chilean capital Santiago.
Puerto Natales in Spring (September to November)
The view of the snow-capped mountains surronding the fjord is beautiful in September and October. In these early months of spring the city becomes again alive after the relaxed winter days, first national and then international travellers start arriving to the Chilean Patagonia and the boat tour in the Last Hope fjord begins to run regularly every day. Laguna Sofia is beautiful in this time of the year since the scenery around the lake is stunning; however if you'd like to climb nearby peaks like Cerro Mocho, Cerro Castillo or Tenerife you need to come prepare with winter equipment (mountaineering boots, crampong, helmet and piolet) since above the treeline ice and snow are most likely still there. November is the month when strong winds start to arrive to these latitudes; if you're planning a boat trip in the fjord or kayaking in Eberhard fjord take into account that cancellations can be possible.
Puerto Natales in Summer (Dicember to February)
Summer is the busiest season of the year for the city which also thrives with activities such as Mountain Film Festival, Craft-Beer Festival, Patagonian Lamb BBQ Celebration and so on. Mountains gets rid of the winter snow and climbing becomes easiear and safer, with flora and fauna at their peak moment. Christmas is very busy and prices for hotels and hostels in town arise, January is a bit calmer whereas February is holiday time for Southamericans with Patagonia hiking tours fully booked either in Torres del Paine and the muntains around the town. A great moment to stroll along the fjord walking path with a calafate ice-cream in your hand!
Puerto Natales in Fall (March to May)
The photographers season is at the door with the Magellanic forest beginning to change the leaves colours in late March around Sofia lake, Cerro Mocho and the great lakes Toro, Maravilla and Porteno. Yet in March there are direct flight from the capital landing at Puerto Natales airport. April and May are the rainest months of the year however, Puerto Natales is located in transitional area between the shrubland and the Patagonian steppe, therefore precipation levels are still moderate even in fall. Finally strong wind gusts die out, days get shorter, sunsets and sunrises filled up the skies with incredible hues and slowly hotels start to close their season.
Puerto Natales in Winter (June to August)
Only way to reach the town is via Punta Arenas airport and the connected bus ride which keeps operating in winter although with less frequencies; the public land connection with the town of El Calafate in Argentina doesn't operate in these months. The town gets quiter, with cold days in June and July in which temperatures drop to -5/-10 °C in the night with bright and starry skies. Many touristic services are closed during this time of the year; hotels and restaurants start to re-open by mid-august. Torres del Paine National Park is open year around as well as Los Glaciares National Park in neighbouring Argentina therefore tourism is still possible even in this quite and cold months.
When to Travel to Puerto Natales
How to Get to Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales is the capital of Ultima Esperanza province and it's therefore well connected with the rest of the region and the neighbouring Argentine Patagonia with a small but sufficient net of pubblic services; moreover since 2016 the town is provided with a national airport which operates for now exclusively during late spring and summer months.
Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales
The capital of Magallanes region, Punta Arenas, is distant 245km (approx 150 miles) from Puerto Natales along completely paved nacional Ruta 9. There two bus companies (Buses Fernandez and Bus Sur) operating every hour along this route, if you're travelling in summer make sure to make a reservation on your bus at least a day in advance. If you're planning to travel by car either from the Punta Arenas or the airport, take into account that there are no gas station along the road.
Puerto Natales Airport
Since 2016 airport "Teniente Julio Gallardo" started to operate with scheduled direct flights to connect Santiago with Puerto Natales, however these options are available only during the late spring and summer months, normally between November to the end of March. It's a 10 minutes ride from the airport to the town centre, where you can find accommodations, restaurants and private/pubblic transportations to get to Torres del Paine, Punta Arenas or Argentina.
Santiago to Puerto Natales
Santiago, the capital of Chile, is regularly connected with its growing international airport "Arturo Merino Benitez" with major North American cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Huston, as well as with South American major hubs (Buenos Aires, Bogota, Sao Paulo, Lima, etc..), Europe (Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Rome, Madrid, etc..) and Australia (Sidney and Melbourne).
There are two possibilities to fly into the region of Magallanes:
- direct option Santiago - Puerto Natales thus landing at Torres del Paine Airport
- more frequent flights Santiago - Punta Arenas, from Punta Arenas airport regular pubblic buses ply the route to Puerto Natales (two an half hours trip) every hour without the need to catch a cab to the city centre. We can easily arrange that bus ticket if you let us know your flight landing time.
Long and adventurous possibility to travel on land from Santiago to Puerto Natales exists:
- by bus you can travel directly to Punta Arenas on a two and half day trip across Argentina. Once you get to Punta Arenas it's only three more hours to Puerto Natales.
- by bus you can travel to the city of Puerto Mont in Southern Chile and from here you board on the ferry Navimag wich connects Puerto Mont with Puerto Natales three times a week from September to April and once a week during the winter months. The boat trip through the Chilean fjords takes almost three days but it's worth the time for the amazing pristine and untouched landscape.
- by bus you travel to the Northern Patagonia region, Aysen, and there you reach the small village of Caleta Tortel. Every saturday a ferry connects Tortel with Puerto Natales on a 36-hour trip across the southern fjords.
Puerto Natales to El Calafate
There few companies which run daily trips in comfortable and safe buses from El Calafate to Puerto Natales bus station and viceversa. The whole trip take from 4 to 5 hours excluding the time you'll spend at the borders (calculate another extra hour if travelling in spring/summer). Take into account that the frequency of this connection tend to get lower or even none during winter time, normally from May to September.
Puerto Natales to Ushuaia
Tierra del Fuego and the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, can now by reached directly from Puerto Natales. The local bus company Bus Sur realizes a direct trip three times a week (monday, wednesday and friday) leaving Puerto Natales at 6:00am, going across the Magellan Strait, entering Argentina and reaching Ushuaia after approximately a total of 12 hours. Take into account that during this long journey a connection will be performed at the gas station of Laguna Cabeza del Mar, where the outbound bus of the same company, Punta Arenas - Ushuaia will pick you up if you have bought the ticket to Ushuaia.
Accommodations in Puerto Natales
Whether you're taking a boat tour in the Last Hope fjord or day-hike in the nearby mountains is worth spending a few nights in Puerto Natales; the town provide several accomodations, a fine selection restaurant serving excellent local food as well as pizzerias and nice bars such as the Last Hope Distillery of our Australian friends!
Hotels Puerto Natales
In the last decade Puerto Natales has developed a vast hotels proposal fitting every traveller budget; starting from backpacking style hostels among which the most famous is certainly Erratic Rock, going into midrange hotel located in the town centre and around the main square like Hotel Vendeval, If Hotel or Costa Australis to end along the fjord's waters with high end accommodations such as Hotel Remota, Altiplanico, Weskar Lodge and Indigo.
Hotel The Singular Patagonia
Standing above all is The Singular Patagonia, something more than a hotel itself. The Singular is the history of Puerto Natales converted into a luxurious, although austere, hotel. Among the best accommodation in South America and certainly the best restaurant in Chile, The Singular was opened in 2011 around the cements and building of the ancient Puerto Bories Cold Storage Plant (Frigorifico Puerto Bories) originally built in 1915. Besides being a hotel, The Singular is a masterpiece of architecture and a fine national museum preserving buildings, original english machines and history of Patagonia of the beginning of XX century. Even though you're not spending a night there, it's worth taking an hour of your time to visit the museum which is open to the pubblic from 10am to 6pm from October to April.